St. Peter's Necropolis

The Vatican Necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica in Rome
The Vatican Necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica. (Photo by Blue 439)

The Scavi—an ancient necropolis underneath St. Peter's Basilica—supposedly contain the burial site of Saint Peter alongside other Roman-era tombs

Christus Sol Invictus mosaic (AD 3rd/4th centuiry) in the Vatican necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica, Rome.
Christus Sol Invictus mosaic (AD 3rd/4th century) in the Scavi di San Pietro.

Below the crypt is the the famous sub-crypt, or "Scavi di San Piatro"contains tombs dating from the origins of Christianity.

St. Peter was probably martyred in the Circus of Nero, which lies under part of the current St. Peter's, but the actual site of his grave was argued over for centuries. Most thought the stories of him being buried here were apocryphal. It was just too neat and perfect.

After all, in giving his chief disciple Simon Cephas the new name of Petrus ("Rock"), Jesus supposedly said: "I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." (Matthew 16:18) That's meant to be a metaphor, right? Christ certainly didn't mean that Peter's bones would literally be in the foundations of the motherchurch for all Christendom.

A Roman tomb in the Vatican necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica, Rome
A Roman tomb in the necropolis under St. Peter's. (Photo by Blue 439)

Then, in 1941, excavations in the Vatican Necropolis uncovered what many had thought was merely a medieval myth: the Red Wall, behind which St. Peter was fabled to be buried and upon which early Christian pilgrims scratched prayers, invocations, thanks, or simply their names in Latin.

Sure enough, behind this wall in 1950 they found a small pocket of a tomb and a box filled with bones that church doctrine now holds once belonged to Jesus' right-hand man and the first bishop of Rome—and, by extension, the world's first pope and vicar of Christ on Earth.

The remains were moved and are now reverently housed under the main altar of the church up above.

Of course, nothing exists independently in the historical or archaeological record to confirm any of this—just belief and a few Bible passages. Then again, the church is not actually built upon a rock or a man or a legend at all, but rather upon faith, so proving such things is really beside the point.

Note: Do not confuse this with the similar, nearby, and newly opened Vatican Necroplis of the via Triumphalis, another set of ancient tombs accessed on a compeltely different tour via the Vatican Gardens. » more

This set of escavations is one is a pain to get into, and only available via a guided tour (which have gotten infinitely harder to secure, ever since Dan Brown set part of Angels & Demons here; see below), but can be worth it. See below for details.

» Take a virtual tour of the St. Peter's Scavi necropolis

Tips & links

Details
ADDRESS

Piazza S. Pietro
tel. +39-06-6988-3731 or +39-06-6988-3712
www.vatican.va

OPEN

By reserved ticket only; see below

ADMISSION

Church: Free
Dome: €7.00
Necropolis: €12

Roma Pass: No

TRANSPORT

Bus: Take the 40 or 62 (or 23, 34, 271, 982, 280, or N11) to Piazza Pia, then loop bus 62; full details under "How to get to St. Peter's" in Tips). Also stopping nearish St. Peter's: 116, 116T, Tram 19, 32, 46, 46B, 49, 81, 98, 492, 571, 590, 881, 916, 916F, 982, 990, N5, N15, N20
Metro: Ottaviano-S. Pietro (A)
Hop-on/hop-off: Vaticano

How long does the St. Peter's Scavi necropolis take?

Planning your day: Figure on the tour taking up at least 90 minutes.

» Rome itineraries

How to get tickets to the Vatican Scavi

In order to get into the sub-crypt St. Peter's Scavi—only 250 visitors allowed per day, in groups of 12, over age 15 only—you have to book ahead at the Vatican Excavations Office (Ufficio Scavi— Fabbrica di San Pietro).

A visit costs €12.

You can either email them (scavi@fsp.va), fax them (tel. +39-06-6987-3017) or apply directly at the Ufficio Scavi, located through the Holy Office Gate off the colonnade to the left on Via Paolo VI (cool bit: you get to ask the pompously costumed Swiss Guards for directions).

You will need to provide:

  • The number of visitors
  • Your names
  • Name/nature of group (if any)
  • Language for the tour
  • Dates available (they determine when exactly you will tour)
  • Your contact info (email, fax, or postal address)

Don't call them; they'll contact you (though for info: +39-06-6988-5318, www.vatican.va—Click on the the "Vatican Museums" link).

Before arriving for your tour, make sure you drop off any bags, bakckpacks, daypacks, or large purses at the "deposito bagagli" office toward the right end of St. Peter's facade.

If a virtual tour will do just as well, the Vatican web site has posted one of those.

Dress Code
The same dress code that applies in the church above holds for the Necropolis: no shorts, no skirts above the knee, and no bare shoulders. I am not kidding.

They will not let you in if you do not come dressed appropriately. Again, I am not kidding.

If it is a hot day and you want to walk around the city in a tank top and/or shorts, just pack and carry a light shawl to cover up when you get to St. Peter's (and other churches).

If you roget—or in a pinch—guys and gals alike can buy a big, cheap scarf from a nearby souvenir stand and wrap it around legs as a long skirt or throw over shoulders as a shawl.

How to get to St. Peter's

Ottaviano-San Pietro is the closest Metro stop (on the A line, about nine blocks to the north at the intersection of Viale Giulio Cesare and Via Barletta/Via Ottaviano).

You used to be able to take famed bus 64 ("The Pickpocket Express") straight from Termini train station to St. Peter's. However, a few years back the bus authority decided, in its infinite idiocy, to truncate this useful line and force everyone to switch buses just seven (long) blocks from their goal.

Now, you can only take the 64 (or its faster, express cousin the 40, as well as neighborhod buses 23, 34, 271, 982, 280, and N11) as far as Piazza Pia (next to Castel Sant'Angelo).

From Piazza Pia, you can either walk (seven boring blocks down the stark, shade-free, Fascist-era Via della Conciliazione boulevard) or transfer to bus 62, the St. Peter's shuttle, which trundles in a short loop to a stop just outside the Vatican walls off the NE corner of the Piazza San Pietro colonnade. (One redeeming feature of this bus: For part of its run it follows Borgo S. Angelo/Via dei Corridori alongside the famous passetto, the wall-top brick viaduct the Pope can use as a personal escape route to Castel Sant'Angelo.)

Nearby...
Rome tours

Share this page

Intrepid Travel 25% off

Search ReidsItaly.com

Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano
★★★
ADDRESS

Piazza S. Pietro
tel. +39-06-6988-3731 or +39-06-6988-3712
www.vatican.va

OPEN

Church: Daily 7am–7pm (to 6:30pm Oct–Mar)

CLOSED WEDNESDAY MORNINGS if there is a papal audience in the piazza; it reopens when the audience is over, around 1pm.

Cupola/roof: Daily 8am-6pm (to 5pm Oct–Mar)

Necropolis: By reserved ticket only; see below

ADMISSION

Church: Free
Dome: €7.00
Necropolis: €12

Roma Pass: No

TRANSPORT

Bus: Take the 40 or 62 (or 23, 34, 271, 982, 280, or N11) to Piazza Pia, then loop bus 62; full details under "How to get to St. Peter's" in Tips). Also stopping nearish St. Peter's: 116, 116T, Tram 19, 32, 46, 46B, 49, 81, 98, 492, 571, 590, 881, 916, 916F, 982, 990, N5, N15, N20
Metro: Ottaviano-S. Pietro (A)
Hop-on/hop-off: Vaticano

TOURS


Train tix

Shortcuts to popular planning sections:

Airfares, Cars, Trains, Tours, Packages, Cruises, Lodging, Itineraries, Info, Packing, Prep, Comm

Follow ReidsItaly
Follow ReidsItaly on Twitter  Join the ReidsItaly fan page  Follow Reids Italy Adventures blog